Today in Pop Modern: June 30, 2014

Summer Games Done Quick

 

Allen: Summer Games Done Quick, a live, charity-driven speed running competition hosted primarily on Twitch.tv ends tomorrow. It’s essentially just a series of scheduled games that Speedrunners from all over the world join in to play and beat as quickly as possible (hence the term “speedrunning”.) Besides being a fun look into the minutia of exploiting glitches and game abilities to play games in interesting ways, it represents a sea change in how people consume and interact with online video.

Users donate to a charity on a per-game basis. If, say, the upcoming speedrun is for Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger,the user who donates the most gets to name the player character whatever they want. It feels like a beautiful use of Internet meme culture, where names are picked by the people who care to invest the most, not a vocal minority who would probably name everyone “BatmanX420.” And since it’s all livestreamed, the whole affair feels like a television network, with new content being broadcast constantly, the best games being played at prime time, and highlights hitting YouTube within hours of airing. It’s nice to see game enthusiasts all watching a fascinating series of skill-based play for a good cause.

Link: http://gamesdonequick.com/

Magellan: The link at the end of this entry is for a video that went viral last week, but that I’d still love to talk about. It’s that fan-made trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy stylized like the trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which I can’t help but play over and over again. Something about watching “Hooked on a Feeling” kick in with R2 lighting up and then watching Han run screaming through an Imperial hallway is at once cloyingly nostalgic and viscerally refreshing. If nothing else, I now want to watch the Original Trilogy over again at the next available opportunity (even the Prequel Trilogy version is quite fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYMJdhbitXQ). More than that, though, I experienced a new-found enthusiasm for the upcoming trilogy. This was helped in no small part by another bit of information that came out last week: Rian Johnson (of Brick and Looper fame) is directing the 8th film (http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/star-wars-enlists-rian-johnson-to-direct-episode-viii-20140620). I’ve been a huge Rian Johnson fan for years now, so you can imagine my glee at seeing a universe I adore promised to the guidance of a creator who I deeply respect and enjoy. I suppose there isn’t much else to say except that I feel we’re on the cusp of a Star Wars Renaissance. People who, like me, grew up with this universe are finally being given the chance to influence it in a big way, and I think that portends great things.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLyNMSkTiGg

James: I am going to go with something a little more mainstream here, and talk about something that most people already know. Recently I have been getting into TED talks, where TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design. These talks can range on anything from a four minute video on the most efficient way to use a paper towel (http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_smith_how_to_use_a_paper_towel) to a twenty minute talk on how body language can affect your life (http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are) . All of the episodes are smart, for the most part funny, and most importantly, less than half an hour long. These little gems can help fill a seemingly unproductive day with a fresh take on the world. There are mobile apps that give all kinds of cool talks, with topics ranging from all of the sides of science, artistry, and real-life. So today, I am pushing you to take half an hour out of your day to find and watch a TED talk that could make your day. The concepts in TED talks are fascinating, and at the very least can spark up interesting dinner conversations, even if they don’t change your life. But trust me, they will.

Link: http://www.ted.com/

 

Today in Pop Modern: October 30th, 2013

October 30th, 2013Allen: The video for Jhene Aiko’s “Bed Peace” featuring Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino was released today. Aiko’s been a stalwart presence in the hip-hop/R&B scene for the last few years, featuring on almost every major rap album either alone or with her R&B collective known as Cocaine 80s. “Bed Peace” showcases her beautiful vocals coupled with Gambino admiring her both in the song and video. I’m not actually sure if the two are dating in real life, but they sure can act like they love each other, whispering lyrics to each other about love and peacefulness. These two are definitely forces to be reckoned with, and only more people will discover them with this smooth, relaxing single. It’s nice to see such a zen message being spread when so much of R&B is about loss and intensity.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBBmI_-gscs

James: Having played Xbox to the point of stopping for a while, I decided it was time to move on to television. This week I marathoned Arrow, the CW show about the superhero Green Arrow. It recently went up on Netflix, and is a fine show to watch. While the individual episodes have some trouble getting the seriousness down in a serialized format, the show as a whole does well, introducing the hero successfully, giving him motivation to become a superhero. The thing that makes it fantastic is the references to the DC universe. The villains that Oliver Queen faces are actual DC comic book villains, and the people he meets are well within the canonical reach of the universe. The flashbacks to the island where he learned archery is particularly rich, a storyline that shares the benefits of the overall show, while feeling fresh and humorous.  I found myself particularly attached to this overarching plot, and the ending of the season finished the first chapter in what I anticipate to be a long story of survival that is definitely worth watching.

Link: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Arrow/70242081?sod=search-autocomplete

Magellan: October is drawing to a close, meaning the movie-going public only has another few days to get their annual dose of horror movies before we all start gearing up for Oscar-bait season. There are a handful of movies that I’m excited about for the last two months of the year (The Wolf of Wall StreetInside Llewyn Davis, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to name a few), but this week we also got a glimpse of another exciting time for film: next summer. Maybe it’s a bit early to be thinking about the next big blockbuster, but yesterday saw the release of the official trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which doesn’t look half-bad. Sure, by now we’re all probably burnt out on superhero stuff (the shakily handled X-Men franchise in particular), but X-Men: First Class was a triumphant return to form for the series, and Days of Future Pastlooks to be following in its horribly mutated footsteps. I’m hopeful, but that may be because I have a soft-spot for X-Men media done right. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK2zYHWDZKo

Today in Pop Modern: October 28th, 2013

October 28th, 2013Allen: A hot topic in the gaming press these days is the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube videos of games being played. These “Let’s Plays” are growing in popularity exponentially, and new Internet personalities have sprouted around this phenomenon. In this excellent article, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek brings up an interesting point: are Let’s Plays hurting the horror genre? As someone who just recently started streaming and uploading game footage with commentary to YouTube, I can understand his trepidation when it comes to a genre so centered on player control. By watching someone else play a horror game, one essentially misses out on the most terrifying and intimate aspect of these games; the control. As I touched on briefly in my latest article, it’s a subject where, as with all good topics of debate, both sides have valid points. Some people will never get to experience these games specifically because they’re too afraid to take control, and it’s going to be even more of a hot-button issue when the next generation of consoles allow streaming of games without any software required.

Link: http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/not-everyone-wants-to-be-a-pilot/1100-4770/

James: The other day, my suite got an Xbox. Despite the lack of productivity, there has been an increase in morale stemming from this acquisition. The games that we have consist of three different football games, Halo 2, Battlefront 2Spiderman 2, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. These games are straight out of my childhood in the 2000s, so they have a deep meaning for me. These were the games that taught me how to play video games, and here they are, back in my room. In particular, playing Battlefront 2 is an amazing experience, as the split screen multiplayer allows someone else to hop on the couch and play. The game center is conducive to socialization, and is one of the best purchases my suite has ever made, except for our disco ball.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMsMpbv9OnA

Magellan: As everyone must be well aware of by now, rock pioneer and music legend Lou Reed passed away over the weekend. There are no doubt countless articles out there which could tell you the nuances of his talent and his affect on the music industry, so I won’t pretend like I know everything about the man or his music. Still, he’s a figure in our popular culture who has influenced countless others, so I thought it would be insensitive and foolish to let his passing by without so much as a respectful nod. So here it is, my respectful nod to Lou Reed: go listen to The Velvet Underground and join me in poseur pleasure. Just close your eyes and listen to “Sweet Jane,” or “Pale Blue Eyes,” or “Heroin,” or whatever you need to listen to in order to honor this man. That’s all I’ve got for today, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go blast some more Velvet Underground.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkumhBVPGdg

Today in Pop Modern: October 16, 2013

Deltron 3030
Allen: Deltron 3030 was always a name I knew of, but never made any effort to look up. I always assumed that it was some eclectic rap duo with some strange lyrics. I was actually right in a few ways, and after listening to their newest album, Event II, I can say that I’m a big fan. What makes this album stand out is its unique framing device, where every few tracks are followed by a brief dialogue between comedian David Cross and his wife, Amber Tamblyn. They discuss “kids these days” in a dystopian future America, and lament the olden days of iPhones and communicating through tweets. Besides being hilarious and well-acted, these skits serve to bridge the tonal shifts of the actual songs on the album. It’s a great set of music to listen to all at once, and several stand out tracks (“Look Across the Sky,” “Nobody Can,” and “Back In The Day”) feature famous actors and musicians. Also, the intro is a summary of the fictional future of 3030 narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Yeah, it’s absolutely bonkers, and worth your time and money.

Link: http://www.amazon.com/Event-II-Explicit-Deltron-3030/dp/B00FADGG46/ref=tmm_other_meta_binding_title_0

James: As the recent examination of my childhood continues, I would like to move on to the most mercurial of directors, Martin Campbell. For those of you who do not know, Martin Campbell has directed quality movies such as Casino RoyaleGolden
Eye
, and The Mask of Zorro. These movies shaped my childhood, and lesser teen years, and give me such hope in children’s movies. However, Martin Campbell has also directed Green Lantern and The Legend of Zorro. Those of you who do not know me might not realize the irrational depth of hatred I have for Green Lantern. This is the movie that started my hatred of Ryan Reynolds and almost destroyed a friendship. More so than any other movie, I have an irrational hatred for everything about this movie, and to me, it seems amazing that the creator of such great works could also produce such terrible movies. For those of you who want a fantastic viewing marathon, look no further than the fantastic movies listed above, and if you don’t, well that’s okay too.

Link: http://collider.com/martin-campbell-interview-green-lantern/

Magellan: Normally I don’t care for overly “YouTube-y” videos (which is an incredibly vague term, but I can’t think of any other way to express that). They just tend to be overly goofy and eerily commercial. I go to YouTube for music videos, movie clips, and dudes getting hit in the nuts, not video series with channels to subscribe to and all that nonsense. In spite of all that, this week I saw a typically “YouTube-y” but surprisingly entertaining video grace the front page of Reddit: the Game of Thrones “Bad Lip Reading.” For those not familiar with Bad Lip Reading, it’s a YouTube channel featuring a guy who says occasionally funny non sequiturs over videos, usually movie trailers or music videos. It’s all pretty silly, but this Game of Thrones one is
a cut above the rest insofar as it’s a more cohesive, creative venture. It’s cut together like the trailer to an Adventureland-style movie, and it’s all surprisingly well-made. The fart jokes at the end are a little childish, but the majority of this thing is worth the watch, even for people like me who have never watched Game of Thrones.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Krz-dyD-UQ

Today in Pop Modern: October 14th, 2013

October 14th, 2013Allen: The launch trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty came out recently, and I think I’m officially sold on it now. What originally attracted me to it was the question of what is real and what is just the fabricated series of stories that Ben Stiller’s character invents. However, I have a feeling that most of the genuinely cool/exotic scenes are all real. Similar to one of my favorite films, Almost Famous, this movie seems like it’s going to be a really heartfelt story with some good acting and really personal direction, especially since it’s actually directed by Stiller himself. I just hope it doesn’t get all sappy at the end, with Walter cradling Kristen Wiig’s body in his arms after a hiking accident or something. Oscar bait season has begun, everyone!

Link: http://youtu.be/XxuYQ1dQtJI

James: Every once in a while, I find that it is important to rewatch old movies. This weekend, the movie that I chose to rewatch was Spy Kids 2. For those who didn’t see it the first time around, Spy Kids was the movie in 2000. The titular kids were spies, complete with the typical gadgets of children spies: an assortment of insanely advanced lasers and electrical contraptions. The second movie capitalized on the success of the first movie, with a star studded cast including Antonio Banderas, Ricardo Monteban, and Steve Buscemi. Unfortunately, the movie did not hold up nearly as well as I remembered, and there were more plot holes than there was plot. The movie still came across as a children’s movie in the worst possible way. But in a somewhat sadistic way, I enjoyed how terrible the movie was. Perhaps it was Schadenfreude, but seeing the pained expression on everyone’s face as we watched the movie, made me enjoy the experience. And in retrospect, I’m sorry for dragging you to the movie, Mom and Dad.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXIsH-la_rU&list=TLt2Quljv4lrc

Magellan: Just over a month ago I discovered the musical gift that is Chance the Rapper’s mixtape, Acid Rap. For anyone who hasn’t come across it yet since it’s late-April release, listen to it immediately. Chance the Rapper serves up an eclectic, fresh mix of genres, creating a mixtape with a distinct sound and groove. (Plus, the first song, “Good-Ass Intro,” is exactly as advertised.) That isn’t what I wanted to highlight today, though. Instead, I’m highlighting the new mixtape from another Chicago-based rapper, close friends with Chance and former member of the now-defunct Kids These Days: Vic Mensa. I was a huge fan of Mensa’s work with Kids These Days, and I was devastated to hear about their breakup back in May. However, I just caught wind of INNANETAPE, Mensa’s new mixtape. I’ve only given it one listen so far, so I can’t give a solid review just yet. Still, there’s a reason I mentioned Acid Rap, and that’s that INNANETAPE seems reminiscent of that mixtape, though with different window dressing. This new mixtape may not excite me as much as Acid Rap or KTD’s Traphouse Rock, but it is comforting to know that Vic Mensa is still an active part of this burgeoning, genre-bending, Chicago music scene.

Link: http://vicmensa.com/

Today in Pop Modern: October 11th, 2013

October 11th, 2013Allen: I’m not a huge fan of Pajiba’s Buzzfeed-esque obsession with lists and .gifs, but this article makes a really good point about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Everybody that I have seen complaining about the new show seems to expect more out of it. A serialized show about secret agents covering up dark government conspiracies and superhuman activities is not going to be a dark, serious meditation on war and power. It’s going to be a really bright and campy action show, with pop culture references and some awkward dialogue. Anyways, it’s co-written by Joss Whedon, for Pete’s sake. Who else knows how to write for groups of 20-somethings better than Ole Joss? He learned a lot from working on The Avengers, including an acute awareness that superpowered characters are really dumb. Even though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t about superheroes, it’s still in that same universe, and should thusly be treated as a continuation of what people liked and didn’t like about the last few Marvel films.

Link: http://www.pajiba.com/seriously_random_lists/ugh-14-reasons-why-you-should-totally-give-up-on-agents-of-shield-after-three-episodes.php

James: Recently I have started to work on my list of games to play, and top on that list was Bioshock. Bioshock is a game that is heavily centered on the tone of its game. The universe that the game is set in is a dark take on the idea of progress within society. The city of Rapture is an underwater  city of scientific progress, the realm of intellectuals unrestrained from government interference and the petty laws of morality. The dark twist comes with the genetic manipulation within the society, a manipulation caused by the highly valuable commodity of “Adam.” The city is the deepest level of horror that I have ever felt within a video game, and putting down the controller actually relieved tension from my slightly sweaty hands. The engrossing level of horror served to keep me fully engrossed in the game, while simultaneously creating a rich atmosphere that gives replays a deeper look into the insanity of science gone wrong. The mechanics of the game are passable, but the graphics stand out, with a visual style that refuses to grow out dated. The game, though slightly older still stands up to the tests of time, making this a fantastic game to pick up.

Link: http://www.2kgames.com/bioshock/

Magellan: As writers on this site go, I’m not much of a gaming-type. Sure, I enjoy the pleasures of the occasional Minesweeper session or what have you, but as a general rule I don’t keep up on the world of video games. That being said, one recent development that has managed to catch my eye is all of Valve’s new hardware announcements, chief among them this nifty new Steam Controller. The first picture I saw of it, with its dorky, square buttons and its zany trackpads had me skeptical, but intrigued. It wasn’t until this video demonstration, though, that I began to fully grasp what the controller is capable of. Here we have a Valve employee showcasing the controller in several different capacities. It’s fascinating to watch and think about the possible applications of this new hardware. I’m still not sure how I feel about the trackpads as opposed to joysticks, and I probably won’t finalize my opinion until I get my hands on one of these controllers, but for now these demonstration videos will keep me interested and excited.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeAjkbNq4xI

Today in Pop Modern: October 9th, 2013

October 9th, 2013Allen: So, reviews seem to be slowly coming out for Beyond: Two Souls. I wasn’t really excited for the game, but it’s refreshing to hear that it’s probably the best Quantic Dream game yet. That isn’t saying much, when you consider that Indigo Prophecy ended with a three-way fight between a psychic, an evil priest, and the physical manifestation of the Internet. But Heavy Rain was also really good…when it wasn’t trying to be awkwardly-acted European crime fiction. Also, good on Ellen Page for starting off her video game acting career with a game like this. It would’ve been easy to be a minor character in the next Dead Space or something, but taking on such an important role in a game as divisive as Beyond shows panache. I don’t know if I’ll be playing it, but I’m definitely gonna keep gobbling up these reviews like candy for now.

Link: http://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/beyond-two-souls-review/1900-600/

James: Every once in a while, I like to review shows that I have watched before. Most of the shows are sagas, such as Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother. But sometimes I have the rare pleasure of coming across one of my lesser known shows. Mongrels is a show about a fox, a dog, a cat and a pigeon living in England. It has a puppet style that is vaguely reminiscent of The Muppets, yet with a dark satirical twist to it, creating a sitcom ensconced in pop culture references. One of my favorite moments in the show comes when Nigel, the fox and a hen grab a sack of flour on a romantic date. As they go to get a boat, the farmer points to a sign which says “one occupant per boat”. This of course refers to the commonly known MENSA puzzle, where a farmer tries to get across a river with his three objects. In response to the sign, Nigel throws a rock, and winds up stealing a boat. The show is filled with obscure references to English pop-culture, which we at Pop-Modern are contractually obligated to refrain from referencing (our British syndicate Pop Moderene  hates when we do that.) For those who are watching for the first time, or rewatching, I would strongly recommend giving Mongrels a good look.

Link: http://www.hulu.com/mongrels

Magellan: Yesterday the Internet cracked open and gave me a special gift: a Barenaked Ladies music video presented by Rooster Teeth Productions. I’ve made it quite clear up to this point that Barenaked Ladies is my favorite band of all time, which I’ll chalk up to their competent sincerity and Canadian whimsy, though that’s an oversimplification if I’ve ever written one. What makes this video (for a single off their new album Grinning Streak, “Odds Are”) such a revelation for me is that for a number of years I’ve also been a big fan of everything Rooster Teeth Productions has done, from their machinima stuff with Red vs. Blue, to their video game shenanigans at Achievement Hunter, to their live action shorts, to their podcast. To have a video pop up that not only showcases my favorite band singing their song and having fun with it, but also features cameos from web personalities the I’ve followed for years, is exciting to say the least. Because of that, there’s plenty of re-watch value for this video (even if the song is honestly not their best). If anything, you need to at least watch it twice: once for the song, and once to read the news ticker at the bottom of the screen.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Sw9Fh6uk4Q